Quick Hits: The Borderlands 2 Mechromancer

So today is a busy day. Like, holy-crap-I-guess-I’m-not-sleeping sort of busy. If you aren’t in the industry or someone with connections, today will be the first day you can play in full Arkane Studios’ Dishonored, Firaxis Games’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Episode 4 of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series (if you’re on PS3, that is; Xbox and PC users have to wait until the 10th). But things were made more manic last night by Gearbox Software’s president Randy Pitchford.

Oh Randy. You and your tweeting.

It turns out that the Mechromancer DLC that was supposed to come out next week has been moved up. Moved up to today, in fact. That’s four sizable releases (more if you include Fable: The Journey, Joe Danger: The Movie, etc.) in just one day, not to mention that this is the first day of GDC Online in Austin, Texas. So I prioritized.

I’ve already previewed the shit out of Dishonored and know that it’s a great game, and the same goes for XCOM. The Walking Dead will have to wait because I’m still emotionally drained from Episode 3 that I think I would implode if I played any more right now. And given that the Mechromancer DLC is just a new character, I figure it couldn’t hurt to get a taste of that before anything else.

Gaige, the character herself, is a bit different from the other vault hunters in that she’s not really a vault hunter. Well, she is, but she’s more of a kiddish mad scientist that created a floating brute of a robot called D374-TP, aka Deathtrap. Deathtrap was originally made for a science fair to deter bullies and I guess things got out of hand or something and now she’s on Pandora.

Personality-wise, she’s a bit like Tiny Tina in that she is a super smart lady, but she definitely tones down her idiomatic speech (things like “awesomeness” and “off the chain”). She still has that spunky attitude, but it feels more subdued, like she tries to hide it but it flows out of her so powerfully that she just can’t control herself. It’s different but familiar in that Borderlands kind of way.

As for how she plays, it can be summed up in a single word: overwhelming, in pretty much every possible way.

Do you remember all that hullabaloo about “girlfriend mode” in Borderlands 2? Well, aside from the colloquial name given by internal team members, it’s actually quite innovative. The controversial mode manifests itself in the Best Friends Forever skill tree where you can customize just how much the game helps you out. For instance, if you’re not that great of a shot, you can invest in the ricochet ability. If you find yourself dying a lot, you can perk up to regenerating health whenever you have a full ammo clip.

In fact, the whole tree is all about getting you out of sticky situations (low health, low shields, pay ‘n spray shooting tactics, etc.) and pumping up Deathtrap. Play your cards right and he can cause explosions for massive damage, take reduced damage from all damage types while his health and melee stats are increased, and get a copy of your shield. Deathtrap can eventually become capable to handily clearing out most areas by himself.

Take some of it, take all of it. It’s a pretty neat concept of customizing the amount of hand-holding a game does. Instead of a binary state on/off switch say in like Bayonetta or New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you can pick along a gradient just how automatic it becomes.

But even as a seasoned shooting game player, you can find great worth in this tree. I personally really wanted the health regeneration because I hate collecting health vials. And The Better Half skill pairs nicely with the Ordered Chaos tree.

The Ordered Chaos tree is…weird. At first, it seems to be a rather bunk set of skills. Reduced accuracy? Decreased magazine size? Why would you want to do any of that?

Because of Anarchy.

In this tree, you collect a resource called Anarchy for either killing enemies or emptying out a full clip before reloading (hence the inclination towards faster fire rates). Each Anarchy ups your damage by 1.75% and decreases your accuracy by 1.75%, bumps that can stack up to 400 times. Do some math and you can easily see where this is headed. I mean, you’ll pretty much have to put the tip of the gun inside the enemy to guarantee a hit, but when it does, prepare to be wowed.

It’s fantastic how cerebral this tree quickly becomes. It encourages you to play in a totally counterintuitive way and yet totally rewards it. A skill instantly recharges your shields for every enemy you kill while simultaneously draining your health (20% to 1%, so good trade-off in my opinion), which pretty much tells you “hey, get in there and shoot some stuff with your 0.3% accuracy and 5000 damage.”

And while you have to keep a rough estimate in your head of how close you need to be to damage enemies and how much health you’re losing on each kill, you then have to keep track of which mode you’re in. If you get the Discard skill, you can trade Anarchy in for sizable bumps to your fire rate, accuracy, and health regeneration. You switch modes by prematurely reloading, so you can probably see where it starts to get complicated, keeping tabs on if you should be dumping or retreating.

I’ve yet to play around with the Little Big Trouble tree, but it also seems pretty neat. The first skill alone gives you a 20% chance to electrocute and 10% chances to slag, ignite, and/or corrode, and it all builds from there. Critical hits, kills, and even reloads all seem to have some sort of elemental bonus attack attached to it. I imagine eventually battles will become nothing more than swirling vortexes of lightning, fire, and acid spewing out of you, Deathtrap, and enemies.

So far, I really like Gaige. She’s great. Her personality is toned down from Tiny Tina but can still get riled up fairly quickly. And her skill trees are fun. She is easily the most complex character to play but she can also be the most friendly. Mix and match and you can easily turn her into the deadliest thing on Pandora.

Just know that some people have been reporting problems with the patch.

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